Do you know what the most popular flavor in the world is? No, it’s not chocolate. It’s vanilla. The most popular flavor in the world is vanilla. Now, if I were to say that a person’s personality is vanilla, what would that mean to you? That they have the most popular personality in the world? No, it would mean that their personality is rather bland and ordinary, boring even. Since when did popular mean bland or boring?
But that’s what we do; we think that to be effective you have to somehow be special, somehow stand out from the crowd, be more gifted than the average person. And we bring that thinking into the church. I’m all for talking about the spiritual gifts in the church—Paul certainly teaches about them. He teaches that every Christian is gifted. The problem is that in our society “gifted” means special, well above average. Schools have gifted programs for the really, really smart kids. Only elite athletes like Lebron James or Peyton Manning are called “gifted.” In our society, if everyone is gifted, no one is, not really. To say that everyone is gifted just seems like a language trick to boost people’s self-esteem, kind of like a children’s competition where every child gets a ribbon, not just the winners, so that no child views themself as a “loser.”
But in the church, everyone is “gifted”? Most of us aren’t buying that. Most people don’t feel that special, because, by definition, most people are average. Most of us are in the big hump in a bell curve, not the extremes. But the truth is that 99% of God’s work is going to be done—well, OK, God is going to do 99% of the work, but of the 1% that humans have to do, regular, average people are going to do 99% of it, and if they don’t, it won’t get done by the extraordinarily gifted people.
The problem is, the books are written by the gifted people. No, it’s true. I mean, who wants to read a book on prayer by a person who doesn’t pray much, who struggles with finding time to pray, who finds that when they do pray, most of their time is spent thinking about other things and wondering if prayer really works. What publisher is going to publish a book on prayer in which the person tells the story of how Aunt Martha got a rare disease and was on her death bed and so they prayed and prayed and prayed, and as they were praying the phone ring and when they answered it, they got the news that Aunt Martha…had died. Yet most of our prayers lives are lacking the kind of dramatic stories that sell books or get published in Guideposts.
The same is true with evangelism. The books on evangelism are written by people who are really, really good at evangelism. They just naturally seem to fall into conversation with others about Jesus, and end up praying with them. All their neighbors were once pagans who have now given their hearts to Christ, and every person they sit next to on an airplane ends up praying to accept Christ.
I’ve sat next to plenty of people on airplanes. I’ve even tried to talk to a few. Most are friendly enough, but most don’t really want to talk. They’ve got their iPods, or they are deeply entrenched in work or a book, or whatever. I’ve engaged a few in conversation, but invariably they get around to asking what I do for a living. I’m a pastor. Oh, really? That’s great. What denomination? Baptist. Oh, well, that’s nice. Yeah, that’s a real conversation stopper as they sit there and stir their Bloody Mary. I’ve not yet had a significant spiritual conversation on an airplane, much less lead someone to the Lord on a flight. As soon as I do, you know what I’m going to do? Write a book on evangelism.
Regular people read these books on evangelism, and they feel guilty for not doing more, and they vow to do more, but it never lasts, does it? So they take the approach Homer Simpson once advocated to his daughter, Lisa. She was down after trying something significant and failing, and Homer said, “Now, Lisa, if at first you don’t succeed, stop trying.”
Well, don’t stop trying to pray, and don’t stop trying to understand the Bible, and don’t stop trying to tell others about your relationship with Christ. Maybe what we ought to do is stop reading books written by the natural-born evangelists.
The work of the church is always done by regular people. You may not feel extraordinarily gifted, and that’s not what Paul was talking about. He was saying that when ordinary people get involved in the work of the Kingdom, the Holy Spirit will supply them with everything they need to be effective. What you do may not be spectacular enough to warrant a book deal, but that’s all right. There’s only one Book we really need anyway.